Services set for Happy Fernandez, 1939-2013

    Services for former City Councilwoman Happy Fernandez are this Sunday, January 27th at 2 p.m., at the Germantown Jewish Center, 400 W. Ellet St., in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy section. The public is invited.


    The family requests that no flowers, food or gift be sent but suggested that those who wish to honor Happy consider a donation to one of the following organizations:

    Philadelphia Citizens for Childen and Youth, one of these five funds, or Children’s Village here.

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    Here’s a piece I posted Saturday, after I learned of Happy’s passing:

    Remembering Happy Fernandez

    I remember standing in a city hall corridor in 1987 when Happy Fernandez first announced her candidacy for City Council. She’d made enough of name for herself as an education and community activist that the city’s leading political reporters showed up for the event, but they looked on with patronizing smiles. Nice lady, but she’d never make it.

    They underestimated her. 

    Five years later she was sworn in for the first of two terms in City Council, and in 1999 she waged a credible campaign for mayor, the first and so far only woman in Philadelphia to do so.

    Happy died today of complications from a stroke. She was 73.

    After her mayoral run, Happy had spent 13 years as president of the Moore College of Art & Design. I’d see her now and then at events, and remember her days in politics. She was a progressive with guts, one who wanted to master the political game and get results.

    “She decided that she was not going to be in politics only to do and say the right things,” her former campaign manager and chief of staff Ken Weinstein told me today. “She was there to win and make a difference, and she knew that in order to do that you needed to play ball and play it hard, and Happy played it very well.”

    Her accomplishments in City Council came less in the legislative arena than in her abilty to push good policies along, and give them voice. She did a lot for child care, and recycling, and she was a rational voice on every major issue. She recruited and inspired a lot of promising young women to get into politics, and she was a totally badass tennis player.

    Happy ran for mayor in 1999 as Ed Rendell was finishing his second term. The big dogs in the race were former City Council President John Street and Marty Weinberg, the power lawyer who’d been a confidante of Mayor Frank Rizzo and came with plenty of money and political backing.

    The charter requires that you live in Philadelphia for three years before taking the mayor’s office, and it was widely believed that Marty had been living in the suburbs, though he had a Philadelphia voting address. Happy filed a lawsuit challenging Weinberg’s residency. Like I said, she had guts.

    The suit didn’t knock Weinberg off the ballot, but it tarnished his credibility, and he came up short in the primary, losing to Street. Happy finished fourth in a field of five, but she never regretted leaving Council to make her move.

    “She felt very strongly that women and progressives needed to step up and run for office,” Weinstein said.

    I once asked Happy if she had any regrets about her political career. She paused for a moment, and said she wished she hadn’t waited so long before she first ran for office.

    The end for Happy was sudden and sad. She’d been healthy and fit, but was diagnosed recently with lung cancer. After successful surgery, she was telling friends she’d be playing tennis again soon, and nobody doubted her. Then she suffered a terrible stroke and moved into hospice for her final days.

    She left her mark on Philadelphia politics, and influenced many lives for the better. Here’s to you, Happy.

    Happy Fernanedez is survived by her husband, Reverend Richard Hernandez, her three sons, John, David and Rich, and eight grandchildren.

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